Have You Played… AD&D: Heroes Of The Lance?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I was a quintessential 90s nerd. I went through the phases so many of us did: Games Workshop, Star Wars, X-Men, Street Fighter II, Robocop, Terminator and Aliens, and of course Dragonlance. Thanks to a series of hugely successful novels, the Dragonlance/Krynn world emerged as the most popular Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting for a time, seeming so much more layered, characterful and dangerous than the comparatively blander Forgotten Realms. I read the books first, played the pen & paper RPG second, then finally sought out videogame adaptations from years previous.

This would have been approximately 1993 or 1994, around half a decade aftr Heroes of the Lance’s release, and almost 10 years on from Drangonlance’s inception. By the time I and the small group of nerdly chums I briefly associated with came to Dragonlance, there were already the best part of a dozen novels out, and we were obsessed with the destiny of Tanis Half-Elven, loved the capering of Tasselhoff Burfoot and were by turns thrilled and dismayed by the Jedi/Sith flip-flopping of Raistlin Majere.

So to discover there had been a Dragonlance game, and one based around the initial adventures of these beloved characters at that, was to be overjoyed. To discover that it was years old and looked it was a disappointment, but it didn’t stop us. The lack of much dialogue or characterisation was more problematic – it says something that even a teeenage boy thought there was something off about simply killing everything to death, given that the source material involved moral dilemmas, romance, treachery and teamwork.

But it was our Dragonlance, on a screen. As the only PC-owner, I played host – a friend came round and watched me play through the entire ugly, simple thing, which must have lasted some three straight hours. Our attachment to the characters meant we experienced horror when someone died, but excitement as the next one took their place – a neat alternative to Golden Axe et al’s lives system. Mostly though, we loved the art on the character selection/bio screens – these seemed like the most detailed and realistic depictions of the cast we’d ever seen, and we were amazed that the PC could render them:

I never played it again. It was so stupid. I loved every minute of it.

17 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I actually have, although it was on the Atari ST, not the PC where I “experienced” it. I too remember being excited to get a D&D computer game, and similarly disappointed with how shallow the actual game was.
    For some reason, I also remember it being more colourful, but apparently not. Images I can find of the ST version online appear to be similarly restricted by a limited colour palette.

  2. LuckyLuigi says:

    I’d play the crap out of this simply because I love the books. Can you get it somewhere ? Is it abandonware ?

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      I -think- it got recently added to GOG, but I’m not entirely certain.

    • ansionnach says:

      Think the only Dragonlance games that are available are the Krynn Gold Box ones (Champions, Death Knights and Dark Queen). You’d have to find the others second-hand. This one came out on plenty of computer systems (Amiga, ST, PC, C64, Spectrum, CPC, MSX) as well as the Master System and original Nintendo so there’s probably a chance of picking it up somewhere. I’d guess that the Amiga and PC versions would be the ones to look out for. PC is probably the most convenient if you have a machine with a floppy drive somewhere. Looking at youtube, this one seems to have PC Speaker sound only and the graphics aren’t as good as above (probably the Amiga version). I’d say this game would run in pure DOS on modern systems, but DOSBox is probably a lot more convenient. Shadow Sorcerer runs fine on my i7 machine and even though it has soundcard support, the PC Speaker is actually better!

      I wouldn’t worry about missing out on this one – it looks pretty shocking. They’re are better Dragonlance games out there – ones that are actually good!

  3. ansionnach says:

    Never did play this one but I heard it’s pretty awful. Read a lot of the Dragonlance books, the Weis and Hickman ones being the real stand-outs. I actually came across the series through a free novel (Wanderlust – the story of how Tanis and Flint met Tasslehoff) that came with the RPG Shadow Sorcerer. It’s D&D-lite, but still quite a fun isometric RPG that uses an early real-time-with-pause system (pre-dating Darklands). It’s quite interesting in that you must guide a group of refugees to safety, pursued by Draconians and dragons, including the terrible red dragon, Ember. You’ve got to keep the refugees onside (they can split up and that’s a real pain) while working out how to escape the valley you’re in (it isn’t merely a matter of going south and smashing your way through). The story really fits in with the books and is told through a mixture of in-game text and much longer journal entries in the manual. Perhaps the best thing about this game is that you’ve got a huge selection of the companions from the books to choose your party of four from (can switch by going back to the refugees at any time):
    Raistlin
    Caramon
    Goldmoon
    Tanis
    Sturm
    Tasslehoff
    Riverwind
    Flint
    Gilthanas
    Laurana
    Eben
    Tika
    Elistan
    Brookland
    Briar
    Locar

    Can’t remember, but maybe some more become available later on. Since it’s an RPG you can appreciate each character’s distinctive qualities. Raistlin is a red mage and true to the books he’s incredibly talented at magic… but extremely frail. Having Goldmoon or another healer on your party is almost a must, although you can get by with a bunch of fighters and go back to where the refugees are camped (where you’ve left Goldmoon).

    Other than Shadow Sorcerer, the Gold Box Dragonlance games are worth a look. Didn’t get on with the hybrid keyboard/mouse interface in the last one (Dark Queen of Krynn), but both Champions and Death Knights are superb. No companions this time – you make your own party and it’s really focused on strategic turn-based combat. You can get actual dragon lances and these are really cool.

    • ansionnach says:

      Another cool thing about SS is that you can use fireballs to level the terrain, destroying certain obstacles. I used to love doing this. Beating the dragons is really tough and whenever they hunt you down the real-time combat meant for a panicked few minutes as you tried to avoid their fireballs. Most of the time you’d just leg it but after a while you’d be able to beat them (it isn’t easy). You pretty much need Raistlin here and you’ve got to finish it quickly before something hits him.

      The companions have their signature weapons, with Tanis’ Wyrmslayer being a real stand-out – much better than any regular sword.

  4. mvar says:

    This came in a bundle along with Hillsfar and dragons of flame, 5 1/2 inch floppy disks. I still remember the huge disappointment when 12-year-old-me realized the amazing artwork on the box wasn’t reflected by the in-game graphics. Never managed to play HOFL properly, i think because of some controller issue (couldn’t manage to figure out the keys or something). Hillsfar was good though

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    Crikey, if you think the game is bad, try the animated film.

    • ansionnach says:

      Came across the film a while back. Was going to watch it anyway until I realised my time and money would be best spent doing anything else, even wasting it some other way!

  6. teppic says:

    I had the ZX Spectrum version, where it was all in black and white and clunky as hell. Shot here – link to mobygames.com

  7. Neurotic says:

    I’m pretty sure I had that on the Amiga. The screenshot up there made me flash on a memory of being hopelessly stuck somewhere similar.

  8. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Never played this one, but only because I had heard it was awful, and didn’t want to ruin my fond memories of the series (I had the same problem with the Farscape game).

  9. Optimaximal says:

    Got it in a double-pack with Hillsfar from Tandy (remember them?) on 5.25 disks.

    Damn it was awful, even more so when you consider how the graphics got downgraded on my dad’s Zenith 286. No explanation of what to do or how to play it – all we worked out how to do was head right until we dropped each character off a cliff one by one…

    Hillsfar was a much better game. The horse riding was ace, although I was too young to work out how to do the plot in the city…

  10. Yserbius says:

    Dear lord, I remember this one. Back in 1999 or so, I went on an Abandonware/ROM kick with some friends and stumbled across this. We got all excited by the (very detailed) 8-bit portraits and bios of the characters as it started up, then couldn’t stop laughing at how unplayable and pathetic the actual game was.

    We then found out that there were Gold Box Dragonlance games and spent quite a bit of time with that (we already were familiar with the Forgotten Realms Gold Box series).

    On another note, I had the PC game Dragon Strike! (a completely different game than the NES one by the same company with the same title, cross-platform IPs were weird back in the day) as a kid and only when I found it again as Abandonware did I appreciate the story, lore, and 5×8 Larry Elmore cards included with it.

  11. Swanny says:

    I had played it bak in the day. I remember this fucking brilliant, sarcastic Gamefaqs board that was dedicated to the worship of this game about 10 years ago.

    Dear God, it’s still there:
    link to gamefaqs.com

    It was even better before Gamefaqs stopped auto-deleting old messages. Great article- thanks for two trips down memory lane.

  12. MadPen says:

    I don’t want to upset anybody. I was in Arches in Utah with my nose buried in Dragonlance. My dad said, “You should stop reading that book. You’ll never have this opportunity again.” I…LOVED those books. I didn’t stop reading them. And I don’t regret it.

    But. But. They are awful :(.

    • Oklahoma Jones says:

      Which ones? The original six books written by Weis and Hickman are absolutely not awful. Not sure where you got that idea. Most of the other Dragonlance books are the typical licensed dross, sure. Read the first books again, though…